Blu Tuesday: Furious 7, The Jinx and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Furious 7”

WHAT: When Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks revenge on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and company for putting his younger brother in a coma, they must team up with a shadowy government agent named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) to recover a tracking device capable of locating anyone in the world and gain the upper hand.

WHY: The “Fast and Furious” movies have always been about fast cars, beautiful women and ridiculous stunts, but the seventh installment in the long-running series has a weight on its shoulders unlike any sequel/prequel before it. The untimely death of Paul Walker not only affected the film’s production, but the manner in which he died cast a morbid shadow over the project. Thankfully, director James Wan was able to turn a horrible tragedy into a respectful and fitting farewell for Walker that adds a layer of emotion to “Furious 7” that resonates throughout the movie, and now, the entire franchise. Though the plot doesn’t always make sense, partially due to some last-minute rewrites to work around Walker’s absence, it’s easily one of the most entertaining “Fast and Furious” installments yet. There are four great fight scenes (Dwayne Johnson vs. Statham, Walker vs. Tony Jaa, Michelle Rodriguez vs. Rhonda Rousey, and Diesel vs. Statham), as well as more gravity-defying stunts that feature cars dropping out of cargo planes and hopping skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi. The whole thing is every bit as ridiculous as you’d expect, but thanks to some incredibly entertaining action and the ever-charming ensemble cast (which adds original badass Kurt Russell to the mix), “Furious 7” is an absolute blast.

EXTRAS: In addition to eight featurettes that explore the cars, stunts, fight choreography and evolution of the franchise, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at making the new Fast & Furious ride at Universal Studios and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”

WHAT: Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki examines the life of Robert Durst, the brilliant but eccentric heir to a New York real estate empire who was accused of three murders over 30 years.

WHY: A chilling and immensely fascinating piece of true crime that was nearly a decade in the making, HBO’s six-part docuseries takes the phrase “stranger than fiction” to dizzying new heights. Utilizing interviews with law enforcement officers, lawyers, the friends and family of Durst’s alleged victims, and in his first public interview, Durst himself, Jarecki’s investigation shines a light on one of the strangest stories in modern history. It’s no secret that Durst has since been arrested (though not yet found guilty) for one of the murders, partially due to new evidence uncovered by Jarecki and his team, but that doesn’t make “The Jinx” any less captivating, because it pulls you in from the opening minutes and never loosens its grasp. Durst is either the unluckiest guy on the planet or a total sociopath, and judging from the case presented against him, including some very telling moments during his interview sessions with Jarecki, the evidence certainly points toward the latter. Of course, this only makes “The Jinx” all the more entertaining, as Durst plays the role of the elitist villain to perfection, practically daring the authorities to outsmart him. Though Jarecki does mess with the chronology of certain events for dramatic effect, and probably could have trimmed some fat off each episode, “The Jinx” is so good that it’ll make you fall in love with detective stories all over again.

EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no bonus material.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Cinderella”

WHAT: After her father passes away, young Ella (Lily James) is forced into servitude by her cruel stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and equally nasty stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger). All hope seems lost, until one night, Ella attends a palace ball with the help of her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) and falls in love with a dashing prince (Richard Madden), who launches a kingdom-wide search to find the mystery woman when she abruptly leaves the party at the stroke of midnight.

WHY: Though Hollywood’s latest craze of making live-action movies based on classic Disney animated properties has yet to produce a genuinely great film, Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella” comes the closest. Branagh may seem like an odd choice for someone who made his name adapting more esteemed literary material, but the director’s cinematic sensibilities are tailor-made for the genre, and it shows in the gorgeous costumes and production design, which are bursting with the color and extravagance befitting of a fairy tale movie. Cate Blanchett steals the show with her performance as the evil stepmother (an inspired bit of casting that puts Angelina Jolie’s recent turn as Maleficent to shame), but Lily James and Richard Madden also fare better than expected thanks to a solid script by Chris Weitz that fleshes out the characters beyond their one-dimensional, animated counterparts. While the film runs a little long for such an incredibly simple tale, “Cinderella” preserves the legacy of its 1950 predecessor by practicing what it preaches (kindness and courage and all that jazz) and overcoming low expectations in the process.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes four featurettes on production, costume design, staging the palace ball sequence and Lily James’ animal co-stars, as well as an alternate opening and the “Frozen Fever” short film that played before the movie in theaters.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Love & Mercy”

WHAT: The story of Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson through two significant periods in his life: as a young man (Paul Dano) in the 1960s whose psychosis first emerges during the production of Pet Sounds, and as a broken, middle-aged man (John Cusack) in the 1980s under the heavily medicated control of controversial therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).

WHY: It’s a little surprising that a Beach Boys biopic had never been made prior to Bill Pohland’s “Love & Mercy,” especially since the band is widely considered to be America’s answer to The Beatles. However, the movie isn’t really about the Beach Boys at all, but rather one of its members, Brian Wilson, whose mistreated mental illness serves as the focus of the film. Though Pohland could have taken the easy route by following the typical biopic formula, “Love & Mercy” benefits from telling a more contained story through two parallel narratives that inform each other. Paul Dano and John Cusack both deliver solid performances as Wilson at different stages of his life, but it’s the early years with Dano that prove the most interesting, showcasing the creative process behind the brilliant but troubled singer-songwriter’s magnum opus. The Cusack-led storyline has its moments, particularly the scenes between Wilson and future wife Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), but Landy is such an over-the-top villain that it becomes a bit repetitive. Still, while “Love & Mercy” is hardly the definitive Beach Boys movie, it provides an intriguing look at one of the music industry’s most enigmatic geniuses that fans of Wilson and the band will definitely want to check out.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary with director Bill Pohland and co-writer Oren Moverman, a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

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